Emanuel Ayvas

Emanuel Ayvas – singer, songwriter and leader of the 20-piece extravaganza called Emanuel And The Fear – may very possibly be a genius. I don’t come across geniuses too often so this may be hard to confirm. But… he is certainly one of the most talented songwriters and multi-instrumentalists I have ever met. He is a Wildman! A Warlock of sorts… on par with the great, gifted, and mystical alchemists of yesteryear who only purvey their secrets to a select few. Emanuel’s songs are extraordinary, inexplicable creations channeled from otherworldly places and then bestowed upon us in a seemingly effortless manner. I can’t say I know him well, but I can confirm reports of him having a raucous time at SXSW with a hodge-podge of his merry pranksters. This man is on a Kerouac-ian quest into the heart of an eternal spirit. To talk to Emanuel, one sometimes needs a willingness to suspend the present moment. Gazing toward an invisible horizon, he expands the listener’s consciousness with words that levitate the conversation to a place of unseen but potentially attainable realization. All this is even before he picks up a guitar! Like a sorcerer in his laboratory, his words are elements and his sounds are potions that once mixed together create a potent elixir. This music is a form of rare poetry devoid of any perimeter known in this dimension. You’ve got to see it to believe it…and once you do… I assure you…you will be better for it!

Dorie Colangelo

If the adage is true that still waters do in fact run deep, than Dorie Colangelo is the personification of this age-old proverb. She is quiet, calm, perceptive and intuitive.

In person and upon first meeting her, one would have a hard time recognizing what lurks beneath. She comes across as anything but intense. She is warm and friendly. She is pleasant. But… when she takes her guitar to the stage she becomes a super-charged vessel of emotive transparency. Her songs explode with a quiet strength and reveal an immortal soul filled with feelings of loss, love, longing and hope. She is uncontrived. She is unassuming. She is in the moment

The tenderness of her voice invites the listener into a world that appears to be the serene calm in the midst of a violent and mysterious storm. Her playing style is simple and effective and compliments her lyrics and vocal delivery in a way that one could not possibly be trained to do. Dorie is a natural and was born to do this.

She is a precious stone in an age of plexiglass and twittered-up hype. She neither pretends nor asks of you. She doesn’t have to. She simply gives. Her songs, her presence and her spirit.

Dorie commands a stage like a female version of Zarathustra atop her Ziggurat as if at an old-time Zoroastrian tent revival. Behind her and off in the distance….the tinge of an orange hue illuminates the night as glittering dust rains down from the heavens. And I am there, with her…as her friend… to pay my respects to the Gods.

Hank and Cupcakes

“Bad Ass”, doesn’t even come close to describing Hank & Cupcakes. They are “Super Bad Ass”! I remember the night in October 2009 that I saw them for the first time at Crash Mansion on Bowery. They were rather unassuming when they took the stage, but then WHAM!!! …the first crash of the cymbals for “Ain’t No Love” exploded into the room and into the atmosphere beyond. It took me all of about 3 seconds to recognize that this was something different, something never before seen. I watched their set with astonishment. This sexy chick drummer playing her drums STANDING UP with fury and proficiency, her vocals bellowing, the hooks emanating from her pipes, wrapped themselves around my eardrums like some kind of deadly snake in a tropical rain forest. This is Cupcakes! She slithers, she screams, she proclaims…..she is there to show the world what she can do. These songs come from somewhere mysterious, mystical, and enchanted. She plowed through that set like a hurricane disguised as a tornado and made no excuses for it. Hank is the epitome of humble. He is some kind of magician – a scientist of sound, an Einstein of bass and pedal technology. Quiet, contemplative and seemingly out of place, but sharp…sharp as the fangs on that very same venomous rain forest snake. He and Cupcakes are aware of everything around them. They know their game. They are tight. They are practiced. They are here to stay and are on a trajectory for greatness. The sounds that this 2-piece drum-and-bass ensemble produce defy logic and would give a listener the impression that they are, at the very least, a 5- piece band. How they do it is unknown, but what they are doing is clear to see. One night, Cupcakes let me know about a new song they were about to unveil called “Jimmy” based on a conversation we’d had at Norwood about a week earlier. (This is by far one of the greatest songs I’ve ever heard, but of course, I’m biased….) From the opening strains of “My name is Jimmy and I gotta a TV show… My name is Jimmy, Ji Ji Ji Ji, Jimmy”… the song takes off like Apollo 11 on a mission of destiny. The song progresses quickly through a hairpin labyrinth of pop hooks and bass chops and then descends down into a maelstrom of whirling dervish-like overdrive until its climactic apex. Whenever I hear it I always feel a lump in my throat. I’ve seen them perform live many times since that first night at Crash Mansion and they just keep getting better and better and better. Dynamic, progressive, perceptive, capable and unmatched, Hank & Cupcakes are here to stay. They are good people too. Mark my words, they are set to conquer whatever landscape they lay claim to!

Notar

If Notar was a company, he’d be called Amalgamated American. If he was a country, his primary export would be charisma.
This guy weaves rap, rock, hip-hop, soul, funk and metal into an effortless tapestry unmatched by anyone around today. He spits his rhymes like a meth addict out for blood on a Red Bull bender.
He’s a human machine gun in a live fire combat zone and he is lit up like a torch on the fourth of July.
With his socially conscious lyrics and an attitude that is part baller, part brawler, part joker and part kid down the block from the old neighborhood with a slice of pizza in his hand, he commands the stage in a supreme manner befitting a prince set to claim his rightful throne. Supported by a band that includes a lead guitarist who expertly works his axe like a Hells Angel works a tire iron on the head of an arch rival…they shred, they contract, they expand and they explode on command following Notar’s every move, inflection and intonation…no matter how subtle or extreme.
Performing to a crowd so diverse, it puts the United Colors of Benetton to shame, Notar’s masterful fusion of hip-hop and everything else under the sun demands inclusion. There is something in his Mulligan’s stew of a repertoire for everyone. About the only demographic I did not see represented at a recent high-energy NYC gig were Hasidic dwarves…but I’m sure it’s just because the word about Notar hasn’t gotten to their village in Middle Earth yet… but it will.
Rolling with the likes of Adam Duritz, who owns the label that Notar is signed to, this latter-day street poet covers topics from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder to what its like being the resident bad ass of where ever he goes…and everything in between. His manner is such that you are hanging on every word he speaks. He is both super serious and a clown at the same time while on stage. He is the ringmaster of his own circus and he emits an energy that is positive, skilled, likable and most importantly, believable. He pulls off what very few can. Even at his bragadocio best… you observe that he is really just telling it like it is… and he’s right.
Stand out tracks on his “Devils Playground” album include the infectiously hooky “Matador” and “Stranger”…. which also features a cameo appearance from the aforementioned Mr. Duritz.
Words on a page cannot possibly do justice to describing Notar’s live show…so I’ll try and put it in terms that you might better understand.
Imagine you are hanging on a street corner slangin crack and all of a sudden a big U-Haul truck pulls up and stops short. The driver gets out, goes to the back of the truck and slides up the door.
You look in to see a mobile brothel filled with a dozen of the hottest Playboy centerfolds on the planet. You pause for a minute.. take a hit of crack, guzzle an energy drink, crush the can on the ground with your foot, than climb in and close the door behind you as the truck peels off down the highway towards a horizon of eternal destiny at warp speed. The last words you scream at the top of your lungs as the nitrous oxide kicks in and daylight disappears is “Go White Boy, Go White Boy, Go ! This…my friends… is Notar!

Queen Caveat

Let’s suppose you’re in a band… a hard-rockin, shit-kickin, take-no-prisoners band. Let’s also suppose you are from Los Angeles, you play the Sunset Strip circuit frequently and you fancy yourself somewhat of a sexy, good-looking female lead singer of said hard-rockin, shit-kickin, take-no-prisoners band. Let’s suppose a bit further that your band finds itself on a bill with Queen Caveat. My best advice to you is find some excuse to cancel the gig, stay home, have a big cheeseburger and curl up with a good book….cause if you are insane enough to go up against Queen Caveat on their home turf, you are out of your mind.

Queen Caveat will utterly and completely destroy you and any sense of self esteem you may have! Queen Caveat is the real deal.
Fronted by the insanely sexy and fearless Lauren Little, Queen Caveat delivers a power kick straight to your gut.
Their music is an adrenaline shot direct to your jugular vein. Lauren performs her relentless set as though she is exorcising a demon that may or may not actually be exorcisable. She is a grenade inside a crate of dynamite surrounded by a fleet of gasoline tankers…and like a sly vixen, she is there taunting you with a book of matches. She is an erupting volcano while mushroom clouds rise around her for show.
Lauren is a star and Queen Caveat is where she shines. These guys will rock the snot out of your nose and leave you bleeding and you will thank them for it.
With a seemingly bottomless pit of energy, Queen Caveat’s live show is a powerchord journey in to the black heart of the universe. They will take you with them willingly and bring you back with blisters on your ears. Just when it seems this band can’t rock any harder they show you that they were just warming up. Think about that part of Boston’s “More Than a Feeling” when the singer starts singing higher and higher until the point his vocals reach the outer limits of the stratosphere as you ask yourself how this is even possible? This is what Queen Caveat does.

“What Built Me”, “Bullet” and “Let It Fall” are just three of their stand out tracks that shouldn’t be missed. Neither should their live show.

Queen Caveat does things that can’t be taught, bought or learned from anyone. If you are thinking of a career in hard rock I hope you know Microsoft Office well, cause if you are competing with the likes of Lauren Little and Queen Caveat, you will need these skills as you seek employment as an administrative assistant as you fade in to obscurity cursing Queen Caveat for destroying your chances. They are just that damn good.

Adam Levy

Adam Levy is the songwriter you wish you were. He’s the songwriting equivalent of a strong pimp hand in the street-hustle game and when he plays… he wields that pimp hand with no mercy.
Adam has a lyrical and playing ability well beyond many of his contemporaries. He goes deep. Deep into those places most just read about in those books they sell you intended to help you realize your full potential under the bullshitic pretense of self awareness. Levy’s a story teller. A sage of sorts. He’s the guy you root for in those old black and white movies that you can’t step away from as you acknowledge…somewhat begrudgingly… that they really made better movies back then. He’s an uncommon and unlikely hero. But make no mistake, he is a hero.

With tales of seduction, loss, and spiritual searching…The Mighty Mr. L. underscores his brilliant lyric writing with a playing style that illustrates the perfect aural motif to effectively convey the virtual screenplay of his songs.
Where most mediocre songwriters cut corners with their 3 chord limitations hoping for an audience to celebrate them for just trying their best, Adam delivers an underlying musicality that brings home the bacon. Due in large part to his tremendous command of musical theory, Levy never fails to impress and entertain. He is a true master of the open chord dream-scape. However, ascribing musical education and practice entirely to what Adam Levy does fails to fully recognize the unique artistry he possesses. He’s the guy you go to when you need your own song tweaked. When you have that unfinished couplet in dire need of the perfect profound truth to mesmerize and bedazzle the wanna-be’s and the pseudo-connoisseurs of song. He’s your ambassador to the neo-pretentious scenesters who fancy themselves a cut above. He is an ever-present reminder to them all that they are barely qualified to carry his guitar case on a rainy Manhattan night.

“Is it really a sin to dance with the devil’s identical twin” Levy sings on one of the stand out tracks from his recent Heart Collector release. Many of us ask ourselves the same question, though perhaps not so eloquently, as real world issues of right and wrong constantly confront us at the crossroads of our existence. Adam… is the hood ornament on the Cadillac of life.

Not to overstate the obvious but Adam Levy is a Golem… embodying that same mystical medieval magic that hovered above the cobble-stoned villages of the old world. He’s the man you seek out to pose the questions of the ages to…. knowing that even if he doesn’t have the answer, he’ll sing you a sweet little diddy that will, at the very least, let you take your mind off of your problems if only for a little while.

Native June

Remember that song “Scotty Doesn’t Know” from the Euro-Trip movie? That good-times, hard-rocking, hooky anthem that rattled around in your head as you exited the theater. Now… imagine that song was an entire band and that vibe was embodied and personified in that band. Well…good news…that band is the LA based quartet Native June. Led by the affable and engaging lead singer and songwriter Gabe Watson, Native June belts out Saturday night party anthems with greater ease than the average American works an all-you-can eat buffet… which is to say… VERY easily. Watson is a very accomplished songwriter who knows his craft well and has a McCartney-esque likability that is unmistakable and contains the essence of the rock-n-roll spirit circa 2012.

When watching Native June you may not even be aware of the Perma-smile that your face gets locked into as you find yourself lost in the pure joy of watching this pop-punk ensemble thrash through their set with the furious zealotry of an Evangelical revival in the backwoods of the Bible Belt on a summer night. The difference with Native June is that their religion is good old fashioned American Rock-N-Roll and Watson along with his band mates are among it’s greatest contemporary disciples.

Joining Watson on this turbo charged sonic quest for glory is the equally charismatic Tristan Hendy who handles bass duties like a Rock God on loan…well… from God. This dude can give Leif Garret a run for his money when it comes to the sheer exuberance and presence that he injects into Native June’s blistering live performances. Watson and Hendy also have Lennon and McCartney-at-the-Cavern-Club type of slapstick interplay that demonstrates the strong bond the two share as friends and band mates.

On lead guitar duties is Martial Chaput, an LA transplant from some part of France but you’d never know it by the way he plays. He is all guts and glory. This ain’t no-cheese-eating-surrender monkey as evidenced by the way he completely tears it up on his SG. Martial serves these songs incredibly effectively and is consummate and proficient in his playing and is a joy to watch. Holding it down with a killer backbeat is the understated powerhouse Michael Brown providing the perfect driving rhythm for these Hell-bound rabble rousers as they do their thing.

The only activity more fun than watching Native June on stage, as I can attest, is hanging with them off stage. They are 4 of the most fun loving lads to be around and life is just one big dirty joke when they are not tending to the serious business of schooling every other band on just how its done. Stand out tracks from Native June include: Summertown, Saturday Night, Daisy, The Circus and Japan.

Check them out at nativejune.com

The Sheepdogs

Ahhh… The Sheepdogs….where to begin…? In watching these dudes at an outdoor SXSW event last week, I’m not sure what I was struck by first. The sheer height of the 3 non-drummers standing on stage like hippy centurions guarding the portal to another dimension… a dimension where classic Southern Rock reigns supreme and pungent herb wafts endlessly through the arid air. Or perhaps I was in suspended animation and suddenly saw myself leading a band of Outlaw bikers at top speed….helmetless…. down a sunny highway in British Columbia to rendezvous with our mules to pick up 80 pounds of Humboldt County’s finest weed for distribution all over Canada’s mid-west. A joint in my mouth, a bowie knife in my sheath and my hair blowing in the wind as I ride, one-handed, holding on to my ape hanger handlebars.

Well…whatever it was…The Sheepdogs definitely made an impression on me and have at least 2 primary capabilities that they execute to a very high degree…. they will get you high without even trying and they will rock your balls off with old school, Mussel Shoals-infused Southern Rock.

Now… take the whole Rolling Stone cover backstory off the table for a minute and the entire come-from-behind heroism of The Sheepdogs….there is no doubt that they were doing what they do long before Rolling Stone anointed them the only unsigned band ever to win the coveted RS Cover Contest and will inevitably be doing this long after the sun sets. Though I suspect that the proficiency with which they represent their genre, that sun won’t be setting anytime soon.

With killer songs like, “I Don’t Know”, “The One You Belong To” and “Right On”, those of us who grew up listening to bands like The Black Crowes interpreting their version of Lynryd Skynryd-influenced rock-n-roll , we now get the chance to live it all over again in real time through The Sheepdogs.

Any way you slice it…. The Sheepdogs are the real deal. They have surely bucked many trends in music to stay true to that which is really the most familiar form of American rock brought to us whole heartedly by our friends from up north.

The low end of Ryan Gullen’s Rickenbacker bass thumped in my chest as lead singer Ewan Currie belted out ganga stained insta-classics and traded guitar licks with lead guitarist Leot Hanson as drummer extraordinaire Sam Corbett held it all together with a masterful display of classic rock percussive genius.

In having the opportunity to hang with the band for a while after their Victory lap set, I was taken by how down-to-earth all the members were. 4 chill dudes, happy to be where they are and glad to know you. Though having never met them before, our conversation revealed to me a genuineness and a great appreciation for their fans and for the opportunities that are before them. With this combination of modesty, mastery and reefer, ain’t no way they can fail. The Sheepdogs can get me high any time !

Warner Drive

The Tao of Warner Drive

Life ain’t fair… it never was… and it never will be. The sooner we learn this lesson in life the better off each of us will be. We are all born with certain gifts, talents, skills and limitations and those of us self aware and honest enough with ourselves to accept these truths are usually set up to succeed in life by playing to our strengths. While we are on the topic of playing to strengths… there is a band from Los Angeles that I recently discovered called Warner Drive who’s main strength seems to be their ability to make a crowd of power-chord punk-rock fans go ABSOLUTELY APESHIT !

Fronted by lead singer Jonny Law, (great name btw), who’s boundless energy and unique tonal quality in his voice gives this five-some an edge among their Sunset Strip contemporaries. Law sings WD’s hook-laden ditties with a confident command that does not go un-noticed. On “Viper Room”… one of Warner Drives made-to mosh hits about the famous Sunset Strip venue, one can hear shades of Sammy Hagar, Kiss and Van Halen all rolled up into Law’s passionate delivery.

Let it be known…. I love this band and they can rock as good as anyone around but Warner Drive is also able to deliver insightful and meaningful power ballads without the syrupy schlock that usually accompanies many of the major label lottery winners who then do what everybody tells them to…. lest they risk the dreaded outcome of being dropped. This capability is demonstratively apparent on “Broken”…. a cigarette lighter anthem for sure… reminiscent of the great power ballads of yesteryear. Warner Drive has soul and depth and originality and there is meaning to their songs. How many other bands can this be said about with a straight face ?

With their blonde and very easy-on-the-eye lead guitarist, Candice Levinson, giving cool lessons to the wannabes, Ryan Harris on rhythm guitar showing suckas how its done, Elvis James on bass, (another great name) making it look easy….and drummer Jonny U beating the skins to death… Warner Drive is one tight unit that delivers a good time to all in attendance. They will take a room full of infidels and convert them to the most die-hard fanatics halfway through their first song. If you don’t believe me… head down to the Sunset Strip where they hold court and see for yourself.

Stand out tracks from Warner Drive include: Viper Room, Broken, Scarecrow, Faking Smile and KGO.

Barkhouse

It’s been a long long time since the outer-boros of New York City have produced an ensemble of talented song-crafters such as the band Barkhouse.

Led by the under-stated Will de Zengotita, this threesome is unpretentiously remarkable in their consistent delivery of heart-torn power ballads and Joe Jackson-tinged anthems.

Will’s voice harkens to David Byrne and beckons the early 80’s in the best way and exudes a soul-searching pain as he belts out lyrics like this line from “I Can’t Wait”; How come you never learned to drive/You wake up crying out “this can’t be my life”/You don’t know how my mother cries/She only wants to be a sister to you.

This song, a powerful ode to a diminishing relationship that is slowly going down in flames is one of the best I observed the band perform at a recent live show which was pretty well attended considering the competition these days for things to occupy the time of potential music fans. He further sings: “So what do you want to do tonight?/Let’s hang out with some people we don’t like.”

I ask you my friends… Who among us has not been there?

Another stand out song from Barkhouse is “Closer Weapon” which further demonstrates a strong propensity for clever word play to illustrate their underlying semi-urban form of romantic tragedy that can only come from three guys who have the 7 Train in their blood. “But I know that’s just no excuse/Up on the roof with my pigeon coop/She pulls her knife when the music starts to play/And she said/Dance with me darlin’/I’ve got a closer weapon”

Beyond what I consider extraordinary lyric writing, each member of Barkhouse is also a VERY impressive musician with de Zengotita showing off ample lead guitar prowess when needed, Olmo Tighe, who also pulls double duty as the drummer for Michael Imperioli’s La Dolce Vita, holding it down on backbeat duties and Jay Mort on bass, keyboard and harmonica.

Another remarkable thing about this band is that all of their songs are credited to the full band instead of the usual frontman-takes-all we tend to see from many win-at-any-cost music outfits as of late.
When it comes down to it, Barkhouse is doing everything right…. good, honest songwriting delivered by some great guys who are just so good at it, they couldn’t stop if they wanted to. You can’t help but to root for the home team.

Keep an eye on these lads!